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Jeanne Bliss Talks Customer Culture

We caught up with Jeanne Bliss, whose latest book, “I Love You More Than My Dog,” helps companies create the kind of customer experience that inspires deep loyalty and rave reviews. Bliss has fired up the customer culture for corporate giants like Lands’ End and Coldwell Banker. She’s also looking forward to sharing her game plan for success at THINK 11. The following is what Jeanne had to say about serving members with gusto.

THINK: Customer service is a topic that’s near and dear to the hearts of credit unions. What do you think makes the difference between offering good service and really inspiring love in your customers

BLISS: The thing that we know earns the right for an organization to call itself a beloved company is delivering an experience – and please hang onto that word “experience” – that’s deliberate, that identifies the moments where a company intersects its customers’ lives and where it has the opportunity to improve those lives. Deliver those moments with reliability and with a human connection that they can’t find anywhere else. That combination is an experience the customer wants to encounter again. That equals love.

THINK: That sounds simple enough when we’re just chatting, but that’s a difficult thing to accomplish, isn’t it?

BLISS: It is and it isn’t. Frequently, when things go wrong we say, “Why isn’t customer service doing a better job?” But the customer experience occurs everywhere that customers traverse your company, as well as at those places where you intersect their lives. How are you helping your customers answer questions? When they contact you for the first time, do you make it a memorable experience? When you have to deliver bad news, whatever that is, do you do it with humanity? Do you hire people with the skills and core competencies around nurturing relationships? That’s really what it is about, being deliberate and proactive and thinking about what you’re going to deliver.

THINK: You used the term “customer-centric” in your books. I guess what that really means is that you’re thinking about what the customer is experiencing versus what you wish to offer. You’re not saying, “Here is the list of things I’m going to say to people.” It’s, “Let me put myself in the customer’s shoes.”

BLISS: That’s exactly right. In the early 1980s, Jan Carlzon, who was leading Scandinavian Airlines at the time, came out with this approach he called “moments of truth.” When I was at Land’s End, we used this. We imagined the UPS driver showing up at a customer’s house. We imagined what it felt like to pull a turtleneck over your head for the first time. Those were moments of truth. If you can inventory those moments and then create an operationally deliberate way to deliver not just that moment but also the great emotion that comes with that moment, then you will separate yourself from other people. Doing that hard work ahead of time by identifying those moments, and then being really great at delivering them, is where the work falls.

THINK: Which of those is the greatest obstacle? Is it wrapping your mind around the idea of it, or is it in the execution?

BLISS: The initial hard part is wrapping your mind around it. We think of our business in terms of the competencies we’ve created inside of our operations: branch operations, customer data, sales, marketing, service. The customer doesn’t experience our business that way. They’re looking for a credit union, going in for the first time, signing up for an account, having an overdraft – whatever those things are. So the first piece of work is rethinking our operation from the customer’s point of view.

The second obstacle can come in the form of creating collaboration across the silos that are used to doing work separately.

And lastly, you must have the patience to implement the changes. Quite often, if something is not taking hold within the first 60 days, if we’re not seeing a big ROI payoff right away, we’re quick to abandon it.

THINK: Is there some imperative on the part of management to sell – not just to members, but also to the staff – this idea that as part of your identity, you should provide an excellent member experience for everyone?

BLISS: I use the term “beloved company” because it embraces organic growth: People love you so much that they’re willing to put their neck on the line to recommend you to others. The most important thing about a beloved company is the internal culture. What’s on the inside shows up on the outside. Companies that are loved the most by their customers are also loved the most by their employees. It’s less about selling internally and more about involving staff in the journey and honoring them. In my book, “I Love You More Than My Dog,” the first decision that beloved companies make is to believe. They believe their customers, but they also believe their employees. They do this by making sure they hire people with the core values that they want delivered to customers. They develop and train them so that once they’ve got those skills, they can trust their judgment. And then they can get rid of a lot of the rules and regulations and policies and procedures that move our great people from doing what’s right to always having to ask someone for approval.

THINK: You’re describing a great place to work.

BLISS: I really am. One reason we loved Land’s End was that we were able to bring the best versions of ourselves to work every day. The decisions that we made there let us have congruence of what I call “heart and habit.” We were able to make business decisions that were congruent with the same core values we used when we made personal decisions.

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